I want to address the issue of having seemed to be too intent on recommending unity as a prerequisite for popular resistance to the UK Government. A bit ‘top down’ you might be thinking! It might seem to be contradicting my suggestion that a movement of true resistance must come from the ‘bottom up’.
I had doubts about the idea, central to the “Covid 19 HQ” recommendation, made by Pete Jones and Chik Connors, that the ‘Labour Movement’ was sufficient to the task of offering a space of unity. I have suggested that all existing political elements must go beyond themselves in the unique circumstances of the CV-19 ‘situation’. My attention has been taken by the thinking that is happening in France where there has been a thorough description of different variations on the recovery process in, for example, Les quatre scenarios pour hégémonie politique du “monde d’apres” by Fabien Escalona and Romaric Godin. At the centre of this work is the proposal for an alliance between the green/environmental movement and the movement for socialism, the eco-socialism scenario. This is repeated with a different inflection in De la CGT à Greenpeace, la société bouscule la gauche by Pauline Graulle. I have emphasised in a previous piece in this series the complexity and systemic character of the CV-19 crisis which I have asserted is fundamentally ecological. However, the first rebellion during the ‘situation’ has been triggered by immediate/violent and systemic racism, the police murder of George Floyd.
A key significant event in this rebellion has been the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol. The ruling elites’ spokespersons were very quickly attempting to divide the people who took down the statue from the ‘peaceful’ protestors. The response of the leader of her majesty’s loyal opposition was symptomatic of the dreadful disease of ‘splitting’ so characteristic of the ‘Labour Movement’. He told the public through a radio interview that the statue should have been “taken down years ago” but this toppling was ‘totally wrong’. Splitting is a painful condition that derives from the institutional history of the Labour Party and its double role in the representational democratic system, the role that wants to see itself as the good, kind master, that holds up the face of socialism to the working masses while making every assurance possible to the ‘higher ups’ that they will suppress and contain this movement. The condition is that of having a forked tongue. It’s painful to look in two directions at the same time. The other signs of this pathology were discovered when The Work of the Labour Party’s and Legal Unit into Antisemitism, 2014-2019 was made available. It turned out that party’s official machine was actively opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership but also that they were terrified and repelled by it and, apparently, by him. I think that this failure of the Labour Party to respond to the ‘history lesson’ given by the statue-topplers of Bristol is a historic turning point. Of course the leader’s muddled self-contradiction are not shared throughout the Party. The Party in its very inner nature is divided and can only come together through an energetic force that is beyond it. Obsequious wriggling cannot solve this. The man whose statue dominated a central public space in Bristol had the initials of his ‘company’ RAC branded into the flesh of the people it was selling as slaves. Totally wrong? The people seeking systemic change within the Labour Party will be held in a dreadful and painfully compromised position.
I believe that one of the mysteries with which we have been faced is where and when the extraordinary ‘horizontalist’ energy of the Momentum movement would erupt again. Similar social movement, in other political contexts, created separate organisations (Les Gilets Jaunes in France or Podemos in Spain) but here in the UK it animated itself in the Labour Party. So where did it go after the Corbyn defeat? I felt that this energy was on the streets of Bristol and that the emergence of a multiple rebellion earthed in anti-racism, environmental revolt and social justice was possible.
I thought it was remarkable how many times I heard amongst the protesters interviewed the view that, as young parents, they had had to go through the hell of institutionalised and violent racism and they didn’t want their children to face it. I relate this to, what I understand to be, a shift in values, accompanying the CV-19 ‘situation’, away from production to reproduction.
The demand for the abolition of the police has given a systemic dimension to this movement. As the ‘staged’ toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad in 2003 was echoed by that of Edward Colston in Bristol in 2020, so the demand for ‘regime change’, cynically promoted by the invading coalition, later resounded in many Tahrir Squares (and still does in Baghdad’s!). The people want the end of the regime! Not just a new set of stooges, not just a new government. As Ta Nehisi Coates said in his conversation with Ezra Klein: ‘I can’t believe I’m gonna say this but I see hope. I see progress right now!’ Her majesty’s loyal opposition are hopeless. I especially say this as her majesty’s offspring squirms around behind high class lawyers to avoid exposure of his misdoings. Abolish the police? Abolish the monarchy! Defund them, tax their wealth, defend their rights as an immigrant family (albeit from Germany in 1714), give them local authority council accommodation.
I am optimistically inclined. Is this really a turning point? When it comes to looking at systemic change it’s worth reading what Donella Meadows says, from a systems analytical point of view, about leverage points. She was, along with others, responsible for the epoch-defining Limits to Growth, the 1972 report on the relationship between economic systems and earth resources, the first use of the kind of computer modelling used in climate change science. In her thoughts about systemic change in 1997 she describes the link between these leverage points and a change of paradigm. This involves a simultaneous change at multiple levels of a system’s operation. The UK, US and Brazil have adopted an ‘exceptionalist’ approach to the CV-19 crisis. This is unsurprising. There was a sense in the attitude of these leaders that the CV-19 couldn’t possibly happen here, an implication that it was for less developed and somehow ethically inferior, weaker parts of the world, that it could be beaten by ‘character’ rather in the way the Johnson describes his encounter with the virus as being like with a mugger – presumably the figure of the mugger and that of what he described as thuggery in the recent Black Lives Matter protests are related. The same kind of tone and mindset was in evidence when Trump called for the governors to dominate (Dominate, dominate, he repeated) in their use of police force against the protestors. This exceptionalism is the underlying infrastructure of the racism that is instituted in the UK and US regimes. This is a kind of thinking that sees production or economic activity as free of any bounds or limits. It is the sheer exertion of will, the will to dominate, to dominate nature and not to be a part of it. This is so stupid and destructive and we have yet to witness how the most recent application of this idiocy will play out, unless we can prevent it! We don’t know what the impacts of CV-19 are. We are all in our separate worlds, divided up. Massive poverty deprivation and misery are being suffered. Look at Millions are suffering now as the economy tanks. Can you help? by John Harris in The Guardian. The classical economic thinking is the current common sense and it treats natural resources as an ‘externality’, as if there is a limitless supply, as if biology is something to be conquered. The simple truth is that if you don’t solve the biology the economy won’t recover. This is why the first of the Principles of Just Recovery from Covid-19 is ‘Put People’s health first, no exceptions!’
Knowledge creation and information management is the core of any effective, even defensive, opposition. One of the CV-19 impacts is the severe financial crisis in higher education. This will lead to a transformation of the sector deeper in many ways than in any other sector. It will change the constitution and ethos of a wider social layer, the ‘knowledge classes’. There will be major redundancies and increasing casualisation. What the student experience constitutes will change. It is a time when the social energies engaged in these knowledge-creating institutions will be in turmoil. This is a prime opportunity to connect these skills and abilities to resistance.
So this Post Script is aimed at redressing an imbalance and reiterating the sense that effective resistance, movements of social transformation, are principally ‘bottom up’. The state must be displaced by a dispersal (localisation) of its functions. Somehow magically this is happening in some measure in my neighbourhood where the local mutual aid organisation first presented itself at an ‘electoral ward’ level but was so popular that it had to break itself down into ‘polling station’ areas. It is responding to shopping, food distribution and other needs and has, over the weeks in this polling station area, responded to requests for help from 120 households. It is actively creating solidarity and community. How will this extraordinary activism extend itself as the dimensions of the chaos being wreaked by the UK government become clear?